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charlotte garnett

The Journey To A Cure For The Itch:  Breaking my Stigma by Charlotte Garnett

Mental Health, Jewellery, Creative journeyIsabella FioreComment

My journey as a designer started long before my 2015 debut collection. To me jewellery is an extension of art; a creative outlet to pour myself into. Art has always been the most important element of my life, as a way of controlling, expressing and reflecting upon the world around me and how I fit into that. Most importantly, it has been imperative to my journey with mental health.

The focus of my designs is to provide subtle helpful solutions for some of the habits formed by mental illness. I aim to create pieces that break the stigma surrounding this topic, allowing people to help themselves in style. I first became aware of the taboo surrounding this topic as a young teen battling an eating disorder and major depression. I soon learnt that this side of my life was very much an unmentionable topic that society did not just fear, but did not want to understand. Unable to really acknowledge my mental health with my peers, I turned to the arts – to the honest raw expression within this community. My private reflections of my emotions soon began to spill into art coursework at school, providing me with a cathartic method of creating autobiographically, which has led me to my current path as a designer.

‘Art should make you feel something’ is a statement I have always worked by. For me, the feeling I try to impart is understanding; of me, each other and one’s self. The genesis of ‘Cure for the Itch’ collection was a comment from a tutor, Naomi Filmer, at the start of my third year, encouraging me to stop looking for alternative inspiration and focus on exploring my own recent diagnosis of anxiety. Up to 1 in 5 of us struggle with anxiety on some level. The truth is that despite it’s prevalence, many people aren’t willing to accept this side of themselves for fear of being labeled as inferior, and are unlikely to seek help or speak about it publicly. Whether struggling with severe anxious disorders or dealing with the stresses of everyday life, the majority of us have developed natural, in-built coping mechanisms, many of which we utilise on a daily basis without even noticing. I spent my final year observing and analysing these behaviours, in others and myself, with the aim of creating something sincere, something useful and most importantly, something still aesthetically desirable.

Taking a clinical approach at first, I studied papers from researchers such as E. Holmes and Bob Hirshon, to understand the psychology behind behavioural manifestations of anxiety- for example,  ‘stimming’.  If you bounce your foot, bite your nails, pull at your hair, or fiddle with your earrings whilst in uncomfortable situations, you've engaged in stimming. ‘Stims’ are repetitive behaviors that help individuals process overwhelming sensory input, and generally vent feelings of stress and worry. I became fascinated with Bob Hirshon’s (AAAS, the Science Society) analysis of the stimming behavior of an historic group of women during the French Revolution known as les tricoteuses, who became famous for knitting while they watched beheadings. He said “this research suggests that the women may have been undisturbed by the guillotine because they knit, not the other way around [ . . . ] It's not necessarily practical to carry around "emergency knitting" for times of stress”. It was this notion of these traumatised women benefiting from an emergency knitting kit that inspired me to start developing a range of portable objects that could be easily accessed for emergency fiddling. 

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I was surprised to find in my developmental research the massive void in products linked positively with mental health. Religious and meditative tools such as worry/prayer beads and Boading balls formed the basis of my research into kinetic objects, however I had to analyse myself for a way to bring these ideas into the 21st century, practically and aesthetically.

Finally, the mental illnesses suffered by my study participants, friends, family and myself had become useful. Reflecting on our collective habits and exposing our “undesirable” aspects was liberating, and over the year of presenting and discussing my work, I finally grew to understand, accept and celebrate my state. By breaking my personal stigma and embarrassment, I had introduced it as a casual topic of conversation at university. My peers, anxious or not, borrowed my prototypes for crits, to cut back on smoking, or just for fun. People came to me in the halls to casually tell me about a stimming habit they’d noticed, and we’d giggle at the state of my own anxiously picked nail varnish. It was no longer a ‘big deal’ to talk about. This is the underlying message I hope to spread with my work – mental health is not always a huge scary monster of a secret to be ashamed of. Mental health does not always hinder us, because when society is accepting, then it can make us unique and strong. We don’t need to divide ourselves into "well" and "not well", "us" and "them".

Cure For The Itch focuses on making a difficult part of our psyches easier to live with, whether you identify as ill or not. I hand make each and every piece to create jewellery that is not just useful, but also stylish, elegant and luxurious to use with pride.